Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cookie Mastery!

There exists for each of us a food item so perfect it cannot be duplicated, nor duplication even attempted, without our rose-colored recollections spoiling our efforts.

Occasionally we try. We ask for directions, instructions, lists of ingredients, and even demonstrations. But no other critic is more harsh than our own memories. Too salty, too sweet, wrong consistency, wrong color -- we dole out judgement before the final product ever comes to be, doomed and aborted before it has the chance to fail on its own merits.

My Lovely Wife and I hold in high esteem certain foods that brought great delight to us during childhood. The very thought of recreating these foods fills us with dread. For me, there are only two favorite foods I have declined attempting during my adult life. One is my grandparents' sauerbraten, the other is my Mother's chocolate-tipped cookie.

Well, as of today, we can scratch one of them off the list.

You must understand I have never, to the best of my knowledge, experienced a holiday season without this cookie. Without trying to overstate the value of the chocolate-tipped cookie, I can tell you it represents Christmas to me. It represents the pinnacle of baked goods from all four corners of the world. It represents, in two bites, the entire goodness of humanity! Good Lord, soak it in a glass of milk for a minute and it might even be able to cure cancer!!!

My brothers understand my high regard for the chocolate-tipped cookie. Each year, beginning in November, our Mother would turn our small kitchen into a neatly-run production line. You had your basics -- chocolate chip, oatmeal & spritz -- and your slightly more exotic -- tea time tassies & rum balls.

One-year the oatmeal cookies morphed into oatmeal raisin and stayed that way. Not that I don't like raisins. I do. It's just I firmly believe they have no business being in a cookie of any kind.

Anyway, Thanksgiving would mark the beginning of the cookie roll-out, building to fever pitch at Christmas and ending around New Year's with that semi-nauseated sense of gratification you get after you've eaten your weight in all-purpose flour.

Of all the cookies Mom would pile on the festive platter, no matter how well she tried to bury them beneath the less-coveted confections, we would swoop in with surgical precision and immediately devour all of the chocolate-tipped cookies. Sometimes I did feel bad for the other cookies. A handful of rum balls and a few fractured tea time tassies would always remain on the platter like fallen soldiers on a battlefield.

And it isn't just my brothers and I who show preference for the chocolate-tipped cookie. As the years have progressed, the grandchildren make it clear each holiday season as we gather round the table for dessert at my parents' house that our chocolate-tipped cookie raid is instinctive. The need to ingest the cookie before all others is programmed into their DNA.

So, this year, knowing how much we all love the holiest of holy cookies, and not wanting to burden my poor Mother with the need to make each of us our own personal dozen to enjoy at every gathering, we gathered in the kitchen this morning to attempt mastery of the chocolate-tipped cookie.

Let's see, ingredients: half a cup of cornstarch, half a cup of confectioners sugar, three-quarters cup of margarine, and one cup of all-purpose four. Combine, then chill for one hour. Shape into individual short tubes and flatten each with a fork. Bake for 25 minutes at 300 degrees. Let them cool. Melt some semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl and gently dip each end in the chocolate. Place on wax paper and cool until the chocolate has hardened.

So simple, yet the simplest things always are the easiest to mess up. We had our moments of doubt.

They're too big! The dough is crumbling! Do we have enough chocolate?!

After baking, the cookie looked like the real thing. And after a couple dips in microwaved chocolate, it seemed as though we were nearing the finish line. All we had to do was wait for them to harden up. In the end, our tastebuds confirmed we had achieved perfection. The taste, the texture, the look of it -- all led us to cookie nirvana.

To know I have the knowledge and skill to teach our children and, God willing, our grandchildren how to make the perfect chocolate-tipped cookie fills me with tremendous pride. Who knows? Maybe someday soon I'll be confident enough to take a crack at the sauerbraten.

© 2010 Mark Feggeler

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